Manfred: Rays' Tampa Bay-Montreal Split Would Boost Team Economics
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred believes the Rays potentially splitting their home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal could not only "preserve baseball" in Tampa-St. Pete but also "improve the economics of the club overall," according to a front-page piece by Marc Topkin of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. Manfred said the MLB Exec Council gave the Rays "permission to explore this alternative in an effort to strengthen a franchise that's performed great on the field but continues to be pretty limited from an economic perspective." He said the split-season plan was a "longer term project" for the Rays. Topkin notes the plan would "face several significant hurdles before being implemented," which likely would not take place until at least '23. That includes "negotiating permission from the city of St. Petersburg" -- the team's lease requires all home games be played at Tropicana Field through '27 -- and getting "approval from the players union." It would also require "arranging for a new or vastly renovated facility in Montreal; working out logistics on how the schedule would be split; and getting formal approval from MLB based on working out a number of other issues, such as TV rights, sponsorships, currency exchange rates and more" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 6/21). The reaction from political leaders across the governments of Tampa and Hillsborough County on Thursday "ranged from worry to optimism to resignation" (TAMPABAY.com, 6/20). However, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman said, "I have no intention of bringing this latest idea to our city council to consider. In fact, I believe this is getting a bit silly" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/21).
BALLPARK ISSUES: MLB.com's Mark Feinsand noted MLB "presented no limitations to the Rays in terms of ballpark possibilities, allowing the club to explore existing venues" in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal as well as "potential new ballparks" (MLB.com, 6/20). THE ATHLETIC's Drellich & Tolentino wrote government officials in Tampa-St. Pete "now must determine whether the Rays are bluffing and whether potentially building a reduced-cost" ballpark for a team playing just 41 games a season is "any more appealing than the other proposed ... deals for the Rays that have failed for a standard 81-game season over the last decade." A source said that the Rays "hope that a schedule where they play games in Florida early in the regular season, when the weather isn't as hot as July and beyond, could mean that a roofless" ballpark could be built for around $600M. That is down $300-400M from estimates for a domed park (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/20). SI.com's Jon Tayler wrote it is not "likely that Montreal would pony up the resources" for a new ballpark to host 41 games. Montreal businessman Stephen Bronfman "purchased a piece of land in the city that would be the ground" for a new ballpark. However, it would "almost certainly require public money to build." Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante "supports holding a referendum on that funding, but the recent initiatives for such measures in other cities routinely have been met with defeat" (SI.com, 6/20).
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX: ESPN's Jeff Passan noted there are a "lot of hurdles that need to be leapt over" before the idea comes to fruition, but he called it a "novel idea." Passan: "After 10 years of failed negotiations, sometimes you've got to go for the home run" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 6/20). MLB Network's Tom Verducci said he did not see the idea happening but said, "They've gone through so many ideas to try to find a new ballpark for the Rays, why not think outside the box?" ("MLB Tonight," MLB Network, 6/20). But YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Cwik wrote given the "numerous complications involved with pulling this off, the proposal could prove to be far more of a headache than anyone is willing to take on" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/20). CBSSN's Adam Schein said, "This is not The Onion. This is real. ... You can't make this up if you tried" ("Time To Schein," CBSSN, 6/20). The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly writes MLB has "some good ideas, a lot of bad ideas, a few shockingly stupid ideas and then it has whatever this idea is" (GLOBE & MAIL, 6/21).
SHOULD TAMPA FANS BE CONCERNED? In Tampa, John Romano writes the Rays know they are not contractually allowed to negotiate about a new ballpark before '28, yet they "went ahead and announced this utterly fanciful idea." Romano: "That's what should concern you today." This idea strays from the way the Rays ownership group "typically conducts business." They "don't do trial balloons" and they "don't ask questions to which they don't already know the answer." Romano: "Why propose a deal they already knew looked dead on arrival?" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 6/21). USA TODAY's Gabe Lacques writes Thursday was a "very, very bad day for ball enthusiasts in Tampa and St. Petersburg, as their fears of regular-season, big-league baseball vanishing from their market moved from the abstract toward reality." Whether or not this arrangement is approved, MLB and the Rays just "ran the oldest play in the franchise-relocation playbook: Alienate the locals, deemphasize the product and create conditions that compel governing bodies to, rather than fight, say, 'OK, be gone, nobody wants you, anyway'" (USA TODAY, 6/21). The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan called the idea an "indictment of Tampa" and said it is an "embarrassment that baseball would even think about this" ("Around the Horn," ESPN, 6/20).
RUNNING OUT OF PATIENCE: ESPN.com's Passan writes sharing the Rays "isn't the nuclear option," but it is a warning the team is "running out of patience." With attendance "still low despite on-field success," ownership believes the "path to viability in the Tampa Bay area must include" a new ballpark. If this were "truly a pure leverage play, with Tampa Bay using the threat of a move as a cudgel, would MLB owners allow a potential expansion city to be straight-up used and run the risk of incensing it?" (ESPN.com, 6/21). A TAMPA BAY TIMES editorial states there are "many unanswered questions about the Rays' proposal," but what is "not in question is that it will require a united front and a cooperative regional spirit to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay under any scenario." There currently is "understandable frustration on all sides," but that "cannot become counterproductive to Tampa Bay's efforts to remain in the big leagues" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 6/21).